How to Learn from Those Who Are Ahead

by Alli McDougal

My sweet grandmother went home to be with Jesus last summer. As her health declined, she struggled ever-so-gracefully, in a way that reflected the deepest love for her Savior. One of my favorite photographs of her is a somewhat blurry candid, snapped from the opposite room as she sat in her cozy, light blue chair in front of the window beside her bed. I can almost feel the warmth of the sun streaming in across her back, her glasses propped loosely on her nose and shoes still neatly tied on her tiny feet. Bible, pen, and journal in hand, she sits bent over in faithful study of God’s Word—despite her aches; despite her hunger for food she can’t keep down; despite many limitations that might leave anyone else feeling helpless. You might never know the fragility in her small frame just by glancing at this captured moment in time. But in that very moment and so many others like it, she chose to place her focus on the One who held her through every joy and hardship that came.

The greatest gift my grandmother gave me was not just how she loved so well but what she taught me from being ahead. She was older and wiser, not only in life but in her walk with Christ. Three of the greatest ways I learned from my grandmother were through time spent in intentional conversation, paying attention to her devotion to God’s Word, and watching her example as she walked through trials of her own. Below are three ways that you, too, can glean wisdom from those who are ahead in their faith.

  • Talk to those who are ahead in order to glean from their wisdom.

One of the things I treasure most from my time with my grandmother is talking about God and the work He was doing in our hearts. She was so, so very faithful to always point me back to Christ in our conversations, never hesitating to find a way to tie in something about her Savior. She loved Him, and it was evident in the way she spoke of Him and looked for Him in every facet of her life. 

We may tend to underestimate the stories from those who are ahead, but the harvest to be gleaned in their words is bountiful. When we set aside intentional time to sit down with them and hear the stories and lessons from their lives, we are able to learn much—lessons shared through stories of pain and loss and uncertainty. But we also learn from their stories of joy and gain, and how they thank the Lord for His constancy—how even in their doubt, He is their perfect provider. God uses the testimony of others to minister to us. We must only open our ears to hear and open our hearts to take in their words rich in the wisdom of experience. 

  • Pay attention to their study of God’s Word.

Beside the chair in my grandmother’s room, she kept a bag that neatly held her Bible, notes, pens, highlighters, and studies. There she would sit each day she was able and pour her heart into learning more about the Lord. She would talk to me about Bible studies she was working through—sharing truths that she was learning. Her joy overflowed as she spoke of how God was molding her and the ways He was convicting her, even at the age of eighty-two. The Lord used those conversations I had with her in a mighty way to remind me of the harvest found in time spent reading and studying the Bible. 

By learning the patterns of someone who knows well the fruitfulness of minutes and hours of faithful time spent with the Lord, we will find that doing so waters a desire within us to know the same in our own lives. And such benefit won’t stop once we reach a certain age, for He will continue His good work in us until He calls us home.

  • Learn from their example as they walk through hard seasons.

I watched my grandmother’s unwavering faithfulness to Jesus, and I know that even though she had really hard days and struggled to stay positive sometimes, it was her love for the Lord and trust in Him that gave her strength through her circumstances. She struggled well in her pain and sickness—and I don’t mean that she wasn’t affected by it—but she constantly reminded herself of God’s love for her and His kindness and sovereignty over her life. Her faith was tangible and evidenced in how she lived her life in that present, hard season.

As we see others navigate hard seasons with fervent trust in the Lord, it strengthens us to do the same. We have a front-row seat to seeing God work in their lives and hearts, even as circumstances go south. We learn what it looks like to rest in Christ and the knowledge that He knows us and walks with us through every season, even when it may seem He is nowhere to be found. We learn the beauty of trusting in a sovereign God who never leaves us or forsakes us.

How sweet a gift for the Lord to give us the wisdom of those who walk ahead of us. In His kindness and grace, He places in our paths those who have long walked with Him and have much to share of His goodness and work in their lives. And as we listen to their stories, watch their study, and learn from the hard places they have been, what joy in that harvest to realize more of who God is. What benefit we see of faithful Bible study and prayer, discovering helpful ways of practicing those spiritual disciplines in our own lives. And what understanding we gain of Jesus and His great love for His children, so great that He gave His life to save us, that we might know Him more.

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